X-Raided – “A Prayer in Hell” review

X-Raided is a 48 year old veteran from Sacramento, California exploding onto the scene in 1992 off the strength of his full-length debut Psycho Active. He was shortly after sentenced to 31 years in prison on murder charges, only to be granted parole in the fall of 2018 & continued to build his discography by dropping 13 more albums whilst incarcerated. Following his last 2 since being a free man California Dreamin’ & There Will Be a Storm however, the Nefarious Loc surprisingly signed to Strange Music last spring & his making his 17th full-length his official debut through the Kansas City independent powerhouse.

The title track is a chilling opener produced by 7 praying for everything that’s holy to give him strength from slaying this child that only feels disdain whereas “Return of the Living Dead” goes into trap territory talking about having a heart full of pain & dread. “Life Sentences” gives off a more shimmering flare to it telling y’all what his life like just before “To Whom It May Concern” talks about ending it all over a morbid instrumental.

Tech N9ne comes into the picture for “Stratus Fear” to hop on a booming trap beat from Wyshmaster claiming that they fear the ascension of the lyricists leading into “Any Challenger” featuring Ras Kass hop on top of some strings courtesy of Robert Rebeck so both of them can talk about taking on anybody. “Legendary” featuring King Iso on the other hand fuses these horns & hi-hats making it known what the mission is, but then “Knoccin’” has some of the weaker feature performances from Bleezo & Playboi Prada despite the heinous instrumental & lyrics comparing themselves to Michael Myers on Halloween.

“No1 is Safe” was a cold choice for a lead single talking about carry the Heat like Mourning with a fittingly depressing atmosphere to the beat while “Celebration” featuring A-Wax dives into soulful turf as both MCs find themselves in a more commemorative mood. “Blaxploitation” hooks the strings back up comparing his music to the soundtrack of the titular genre of films while “Villains in the Field” has another mundane feature performance except this time it’s from Yowda even though I like the piano instrumental & the concept of who he’s with these days.

Continuing from there, “Parasitic” begins the final leg of the album gives off a more traditional west coast sound talking about not giving a fuck about anyone or anything while “The Bridge” featuring Joey Cool returns to the boom bap looking back on childhood memories. The penultimate track & 2nd single “Kal-El” gives off an eerier trap feel declaring he cannot be brought down no matter how hard you try & “Many Apologies” closes out the album some pianos talking about embracing the dichotomy.

As someone who considers Psycho Active to be a west coast classic & a Strange Music fan since high school, my anticipation was very high for these 2 parties to crossover & I can argue that it’s X’s 2nd best album right behind his debut. The production is incredibly consistent as are a good majority of the features & the tale of his dysmorphic relationship with time itself is profoundly well-told.

Score: 4/5

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King Iso – “8 P.M. Med Call” review

King Iso is a 32 year old MC/producer form Omaha, Nebraska who up as a protege of San Diego chopper Twisted Insane. But he would only drop first 2 full-lengths The Insanity Plea & Autophobia under Brainsick Muzik, falling out with his former mentor & putting out his next album DeMenTia independently in 2018. However, I was thrilled to see him sign with Strange Music the following spring & his debut on the Kansas City powerhouse World War Me that came out when the COVID-19 pandemic started quickly become one of the label’s best albums ever. He just dropped Get Well Soon earlier this year & I happened to like almost as much as World War Me. So when Iso took to social media saying he recorded so much music for his last effort that he’s giving us the leftovers in the form of his debut EP, it intrigued me enough to check it out.

Tech N9ne & X-Raided tag along for the trap opener “R.A.P. (Really A Psycho)” talking about that’s exactly what they are whereas “Happy” works in some somber keys to wonder if he’ll ever find happiness again. “N.A.A. (Not At All)” returns to trap turf calling out someone for not listening to him, but then Taebo tha Truth comes into the picture for “F.W.T.T. (Fuck What They Think)” shoots for a moodier aesthetic down to the finger-snaps & hi-hats talking about not caring of what others say of them.

“I.M.H. (In My Head)” brings in the acoustic to let y’all know where he spends way too much of his time while the song “Speedy Recovery” is a twangy trap banger admitting that his road to recovery isn’t happening fast enough. The penultimate track “Touch the Sky” has a more glistening quality to the beat giving the world a letter from the other side & “Otherwise” ends the EP by chillingly confessing his hopes.

For a bunch of outtakes, I think nearly all of them would’ve fit right it on Get Well Soon somewhere in the track listing as a little long as that album already is. His production is on par with that & World War Me with Iso’s themes of mental health will definitely continue to resonate with a lot of people who’re not alone & are also in a dark point of their lives.

Score: 4/5

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Joey Cool – “The Chairman of the Board” review

This is the 6th full-length album from Kansas City emcee Joey Cool. Catching attention as a long-time affiliate of local independent hip hop powerhouse Strange Music dropping a total of 4 mixtapes & a studio album on his own, Tech N9ne decided to officially sign him to the Snake & Bat in 2017 & dropping his eponymous sophomore album the next year. This was followed up with Old Habits Die Hard as well as Coolie High & I Tried to Be Normal Once, but is ringing in another summer by delivering The Chairman of the Board.

After the “Moonlight” intro, the first song “Bumpy Johnson Back” is a boom bap opener with Joey returning to his roots whereas “The Chairman” takes a hazier route talking about being on deck. “Kingsman” shoots for a symphonic aesthetic detailing coming from a long line of hustlers just before Tech N9ne comes into the picture for the trap-tinged “Mega Grit” to talk about how they’ve been immortalized in this rap game.

Meanwhile on “Havana Conference”, we have Joey over a dusty instrumental advising not to call him lucky leading into King Iso tagging along for “Idle Hands” to return to trap territory thanks to Wyshmaster talking about eyeing a demon dancing. “Iceberg” with the legendary X-Raided who just happened to sign to Strange Music a couple months ago is a cloudy boom bap banger with both of them describing how cold blooded they are, but then “Hoodoo” incorporates a sped-up blues sample talking about staying at the bottom of the sea.

“Casper Holstein” mixes some pianos & snares comparing him to that of the Harlem monster of the same name & even though Tay Diggs’ verse on “Lansky” is probably the weakest feature on the album, I do like the plucky boom bap beat as well as the Meyer Lansky-influenced subject matter. X-Raided returns 1 last time for “We Got ‘Em Now” keeping it boom bap talking about doing it bigger than ever while “Troubled Waters” weaves some pianos & handclaps addressing the ones that made it through the hardships.

The song “My Boy” elaborates about his homie Frankie saying the best revenge is massive success over a flute-heavy instrumental while the penultimate track “Teremana” comes through with an aggressive ode to the titular brand of tequila. “The Best is Yet to Come” closes out the album with a chill boom bap anthem produced by Dominique Sanders talking about being far from done.

I’ve enjoyed just about every album that Joey has dropped since signing to Strange, but The Chairman of the Board stands as one of my favorites in his whole discography. I think the production’s a little bitter than the one he dropped last summer & he sounds a lot more confident on here as he leaves no room for questions regarding his current status.

Score: 3.5/5

King Iso – “Get Well Soon” review

This is the 5th full-length album from Nebraska emcee/producer King Iso. Coming up as a protege of San Diego chopper Twisted Insane, he would only drop first 2 albums & The Insanity Plea & Autophobia under Brainsick Muzik. Shortly after, they had an unfortunate falling out & it prompted Iso to put out his next album DeMenTia independently in 2018. However, I was thrilled to see him sign with Strange Music the following spring & his debut on the Kansas City powerhouse World War Me has quickly become one of the label’s best albums ever. So given that & the singles that Iso released for Get Well Soon over the fall, my expectations were very high.

The title track opens up the album on top of a somber trap instrumental confessing that he no longer feels the same whereas “0 Dark 34” weaves some hi-hats behind the sound of a phone beeping talking about being too busy to work on himself. “Today” has a more jangly ring to it pondering if people would call him if they didn’t need a favor or wanted to get money leading into “6 AM” has a darker tone sonically talking about getting high before the sunrise.

Meanwhile on “Big Farm A”, we have C-Mob & X-Raided tagging along with Iso over some tropical guitar licks & skittering drums letting the masses know we’re living in a sick market just before “Under My Tongue” takes a more spacious yet bass heavy route talking about how he was getting it in in the mental hospital. Rittz & Twista come into the picture for the rambunctious “Self Destruct” admitting they’re about to implode any moment, but then “Hellthy” talks about smiling while burning away over a downtrodden trap beat.

King Kash joins his brother for the cloudy/trap infused “I’m Okay” lying about their state of mental well being prior to jumping on top of some hi-hats & pianos admitting he’s “Not Well”. Following this, “Window” kinda has the same feel as the previous cut instrumentally except it’s more somber & detailing having so much on his mind while “Made Me Crazy” makes the sounds of Cuckoos into a trap beat with Snake Lucci & Tech N9ne talking about being unhinged.

“Big Facts” with Taebo tha Truth finds the 2 taking shots at those who be talking too much over an atmospheric instrumental whereas the guitar-heavy “My Flowers” is basically The Brazy Bunch demanding their respect. Taebo returns for the aggressive “6 PM” reminding the world that they had to run it on their lonely. The song “Cover the Scars” is an acoustic/trap banger paying tribute to all of those out there who have Iso tattoos while the penultimate track “Hypocrite” has a churchy quality to it talking about how his music has helped others yet he’s not helping himself. “Help Yourself” ends the album with an energized ballad encouraging self care.

I think it’s safe to say that Iso’s output ever since signing to Strange has been the best of his career thus far & Get Well Soon wound up being a fantastic follow-up to World War Me. His production skills continue to progress while continuing to raise awareness of how much mental health matters further & detailing the obstacles he constantly faces.

Score: 4/5

Maez301 – “Hello, Goodbye.” review

Maez301 is a 28 year old rapper from Gaithersburg, Maryland that first got his start in 2017 with his debut mixtape Nowhere. The project eventually caught the attention of Ervin Pope & Jerome Taylor, both of whom helped Maez get a record contract with Strange Music the following year & dropped his eponymous full-length debut showing Strange fans who he is artistically a little bit after his 26th born day. The sophomore effort HASAAN took a more personal tone to it & now that he’s home from the Strange New World Tour, Maez is keeping EP behind the boards for his 3rd album.

The title track has some gospel qualities to it telling listeners to be ready when he goes whereas “Let Up” with Tech N9ne is a west coast-tinged banger talking about never slowing down. “First Place” goes into cloudy, trap territory striving for victory & “Black” has to be one of the best songs of his career thus far detailing issues that’re very much relevant today on top of a bluesy instrumental.

Meanwhile on “Frenemies”, we have King Iso joining Maez on top of an acoustic guitar as well as a flute & some snares addressing trust issues leading into “Olsen Twins” serving as a romantically lush trap banger. After the “Different” interlude, “Fallen” is a downtrodden cut cussing out those who wanna see him fail just before “Inspire Me” tells his lover how much she means to him & the beat kinda reminds me of DJ Mustard for whatever reason.

Jehry Robinson tags along for the ethereal “Strange Flows” talking about hoes, but then “Slow Down” keeps the cloud rap vibes going by trying to steal a girl fed up with fuckboys. “Girlfriend” is a smooth dedication to his new sweetheart whereas “Lot on My Plate” has a bit of a cavernous feel to it venting about people hating him because he did it his way.

“Nun 2 Me” is a more spacious cut saying it ain’t shit to him while the song “What a Life” follows it up with a high-spirited bop about how blessed he is. The penultimate track “Ecstasy” psychedelically encourages listeners to live in the moment & “No Limit” rounds it all off has this sparkling quality to the beat talking about taking things as high as possible.

If you liked how Maez introduced the world to who he is artistically & personally on the last 2 albums as much as I did, then I HIGHLY encourage you to check this new one out as soon as you can because he really outdoes himself this time. I always appreciate when one tries to expand themselves artistically & that’s EXACTLY what he does with EP on here successfully.

Score: 4/5

Tech N9ne – “Asin9ne” review

This is the 23rd full-length album from Kansas City icon Tech N9ne. Getting his footing in 3 decades back as a member of the groups Black Mafia as well as the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villians & Nnutthowze, his profile began to increase in the late 90’s after landing a spot on the Gang Related soundtrack & becoming among the first to join Yukmouth’s then-newly formed collective The Regime. But after having issues with Interscope Records & Universal Music Group following the release of his iconic 3rd album Anghellic, that’s when Tech decided to form his own label with the help of a man at Paradise Originals named Travis O’Guin. Together, they would call it Strange Music & solidified itself as one of if not the biggest indie label in the world. Tech has made it a tradition to drop an album every year since Everready (The Religion) back in ‘06 & given that’s been going on at Strange throughout 2021, I was very curious to hear how Asin9ne would address it all.

“The Herder” kicks the album off with Tech villainously proclaiming himself as just that with production from Wyshmaster whereas the King Iso & Seuss Mace-assisted “I Don’t Fit” has a symphonic trap vibe with the help of N4 talking about not fitting in even though they’re the shit. “Kickiter” has a bit of an EDM flare encouraging the crowds to riot leading into the spacious “Too Good” produced by Ervin Pope & featuring Lil Wayne tackles the idea of being too good for their own good.

Meanwhile on “No See Umz”, we Snow Tha Product tagging along with a poorly sung Russ hook for an anthem going at their doubters just before King Iso returns alongside Joey Cool & even The Rock (although you can definitely tell Tech wrote his verse) with the combative “Face Off” serving as 7’s only production on the album. E-40 comes into the picture for the explosive strip club anthem “Clydesdale”, but then “Still Right Here” with X-Raided serves as an emotional ballad about loyalty.

“Take Your Halo” reveals itself as an angry response to those who’ve been talking shit on Strange Music as of late while “Knock That Noodle” speaks on the violence in KC over a cavernous beat. “Heightened” despite it’s brevity feels like something you’d hear in the trailer of a good horror movie just before the horrible dubstep/rap fusion that is “What Rhymes With Threat’ll Kill Ya?” with Phlaque the Grimstress & Zkeircrow.

If you couldn’t tell by the title, “I Been Thru a Lot” delivers one of the more vulnerable moments on the entire album & “Dial It Back” has a more cloudier sound talking about how he ain’t bragging. The song “Zaza” with Oobergeek meditatively gets sensual while the penultimate track “Close Yours Eyes” is a more boom bap-tinged pleading to keep faith in him. “Special” finishes it off with a powerful, feel-good guitar ballad.

I’ve been a huge fan of Tech N9ne since my senior year of high school & his music has helped me through some dark times, but I’m kinda indifferent towards Asin9ne. He definitely proves that he can hold an album without 7 but much like ENTERFEAR, he overdid it on the features & their contributions are either hit or miss.

Score: 3/5

The Brazy Bunch – “Written n Blood” review

The Brazy Bunch is a duo from Omaha, Nebraska consisting of A-Wax & King Iso. We’ve heard them a couple times throughout the year with songs like “At All” by Taebo the Truth or even “Bag Up” & “Blemish” off of A-Wax’s latest solo projects but after a small debacle revolved around the pair’s full-length debut Written n Blood getting pulled within hours of it’s initial release over the spring due to proper procedures not being followed by Iso’s current contract with Strange Music, they managed to work everything out with Travis O’Guin & officially drop it under the It Goes Up Entertainment subsidiary of the renown Kansas City label.

The acoustic/trap-tinged title track opens things up about how it’s their lives whereas “Ran Up” works in some sirens to speak on being chased by the cops. “Helpless” is a guitar ballad saying that money multiplied their problems just before the spacious materialistic ode “Slimy”.

Meanwhile on “Spain”, we have The Brazy Bunch somberly talking about revisiting the past even though it’s hurtful leading into them telling motherfuckers to get out of their feelings for the misty “Mad For”. The pianos on “Go Brazy” are pretty cool as they come through with a riot starter, but then “Measure It” serves as an ominous coke pusher’s theme surprisingly.

“Tears Dry” has a minimal beat going on about their bitches try’na fix what isn’t broken while “Time” is a much more downtrodden cut detailing going from their harder days to where they are now. “Flooded” continues the darker vibes saying they can’t scrub the blood on their hands whereas “Corrode” is an atmospheric cut about being paranoid that everyone is with the feds.

The keyboard passages on “So Strange” fit well given that they’re telling us that fame came with a cost leading into “Omaha”, which is a decent lil homage to their hometown. The song “Trip” is a cloud rap banger about never wishing jail on their brothers while the penultimate track “Fuck It Up” atmospherically details getting these bitches to trust them again. “Packin’” finally ends things with a foreboding theme about running up checks.

If you’re expecting more of that World War Me shit, then you’re gonna be disappointed. However, I think this is a solid debut nonetheless. King Iso’s production goes into more of that trap shit than he did on the last album & the chemistry with A-Wax is pretty unique as well.

Score: 3.5/5

Jehry Robinson – “The Name’s Not Important” review

This is the sophomore album from New York rapper, singer, songwriter & producer Jehry Robinson. Coming up in 2016 off his self-titled mixtape then an EP the following year, his biggest breakthrough came around Christmas 2019 when he signed to Strange Music & put out his full-length debut 20/Twenty at the tail-end of that following summer. However, it looks like Jehry is already back with The Name’s Not Important & has enlisted Wyshmaster to produce the whole thing from start to finish.

“Out My Face” starts things off with Jehry & his mentor Tech N9ne telling their naysayers to leave them alone with Wyshmaster whipping up an energetic trap instrumental whereas “Scars in My Mind” is a piano ballad opening up about “we’re only holy when we hover inside”. “On Read” takes a more moodier turn airing out a woman ghosting him just before the acoustic “Everything’s on Fire” tells listeners that “you’re the only one that can be you”.

Meanwhile on “Weekend”, we get a tropical party theme leading into him & Krizz saying their lives are a mess for the bassy trap banger “Can’t Hold My Head Up”. I think “Butterflies” has to be my favorite on the whole album with it’s boom bap production & Jehry showcasing his speedy flows, but “Take Me Home” works in some beautiful keys saying he’ll change some day.

“Cancellations” with Nani Layilaa is a harmonious cut looking back on the struggle whereas “24/8” is a short boom bap ballad saying he can’t believe he’s made it this far. “Full Moon” serves as a full-blown contemporary R&B cut that isn’t too bad, but “All These Colors” with Hi-Rez is a downtrodden trap cut talking about change.

“Full View” enlists Rose the Mermaid for a keyboard/boom bap cut saying they ain’t worried about the next man while the song “Another Round” with Justina Valentine serves as a fiery strip club banger. The penultimate track “Too Much” energetically talks about doing the most & for the closer “Living Proof”, we got Jehry & Joey Cool coming together for a summery tune hoping the good days will weigh the bad ones out.

20/Twenty is a tad bit better to me, but The Name’s Not Important is a worthy follow-up. I like how it picks up where the previous album left off with Jehry once again showing that he’s one of if not the most versatile artist on Strange Music currently.

Score: 3.5/5

Joey Cool – “I Tried to Be Normal Once” review

Joey Cool is a 35 year old MC from Kansas City, Missouri who first caught attention as a long-time affiliate of local independent hip hop powerhouse Strange Music. However after releasing a total of 4 mixtapes & a studio album on his own, Tech N9ne decided to officially sign him to the Snake & Bat in 2017 & dropping his eponymous sophomore album the next year. This was followed up with Old Habits Die Hard & now as the 1-year anniversary of Coolie High approaches this fall, Joey is following it up by dropping his 5th full-length album.

After the “Swanktastical” intro, the first song “Way Down” works in a pillowy trap beat asking to dim the lights whereas “Jumpin’” is an energetic crowd mover down the Kato production. “Strange Sinatra” declares himself as such on top of a glossy trap instrumental from Dominique Sanders just before going into rap rock territory for the Tech N9ne-assisted “Man on Fire”.

Meanwhile on “Protect Thine Energy”, we have Joey going back into trap turf talking about dominating every season leading into him & Kye Colors jumping on top of some pianos & finger snaps showing their new bag for “New Phone”. He later opens up about a party in the hills that’ll probably kill him on the quasi-boom bappy “Bad Dreams”, but then “Like I’m Supposed To” atmospherically opens up about never following suit & being him.

Jon Connor of all people tags along for the jingly “Thomas Shelby” comparing themselves to the Peaky Blinders character of the same name whereas “Don’t Touch Me” has a more minimal sound saying he’s not down with the fuckery. C-Mob, Rittz, Suli4Q & Whitney Peyton come together on the trap banger “It’s a Pity” saying they did it now while “Here We Are” is a moodier jam about how “we take it far”.

The penultimate track “Whiskey of the Day” with Jehry Robinson & Wrekonize finds the trio joining forces to deliver a catchy homage to Jack Daniels down to the stripped-back production & the closer “Coolie Time” is a just yet hyper dedication to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is where his Strange Music contract was publicly revealed at.

Now I don’t know where Joey Cool is going from here because we all know a lot of artists have been leaving Strange to do their own thing throughout these last few months, but I’m gonna stick along for the ride because this is as solid as his previous efforts. I love the confidence in his voice & even though 7 usually produces the label’s output, they make it work without him.

Score: 3.5/5

BL1GHT – Self-Titled review

BL1GHT is a newly formed duo consisting of HU$H & Tech N9ne. One is a rapper/producer from Los Angeles known for his work in the EDM scene under numerous aliases & the latter being amongst the biggest independent hip hop artists of all-time. Now I’m not really sure exactly how these guys’ paths crossed, but my morbid curiosity for this eponymous debut EP of theirs got the best of me given how much of a N9na fan I’ve been since high school. Especially off the strength of albums like Anghellic, Absolute Power, Everready (The Religion), K.o.D. (King of Darkness), All 6’s & 7’s, Welcome to Strangeland and Special Effects.

”Let Lost Happen” starts the EP by going into a brostep direction as BL1GHT tell the listener that “false starts isn’t how they play” whereas the next joint “Noise Baby” sounds like a rehash of your generic EDM track from 2011 with it’s repetitive structuring. We go into a more glitchier sound on the lyrically aggressive “Move Back Right Now” before fusing elements of dubstep & trap metal with “Smiley”.

Meanwhile on “Wear U Down”, the instrumental for some reason sounds like the theme music you’d hear whenever a Blacklight: Retribution match would end as BL1GHT rap about the way they show love while the penultimate track “41 Days” is much more melodic & the lyrics are more depressing. The closer “Suffering” is a lot similar to “Smiley” in terms of the production with the duo rapping about wanting their opposition to suffer.

I have nothing against dubstep or EDM as an entire genre, but boy was it a struggle for me to sit through this entire EP for 22 minutes. The chemistry between the duo seems to be hamfisted rather than natural because as a performer, Tech N9ne is just washing HU$H on every song. On top of that, the latter’s production isn’t as invigorating as someone like Burial’s

Score: 1/5